Before six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus got started on their shared reign of dominance atop the sport, the duo almost broke apart over their respective egos.
But then their boss, team owner Rick Hendrick, called a meeting between them – complete with milk, cookies, and the edict that nobody was leaving the room until everybody had been honest with themselves.
The “milk and cookies” meeting has long been common knowledge, but still holds a degree of notoriety considering what happened on the track after it took place. Johnson, imbued with calm, California cool, and Knaus, imbued with never-ending intensity, have since gone on to stake their claim as one of the greatest driver/crew chief combos in NASCAR history.
“For me, it comes down to respect and trust,” Johnson tells NBCSports.com’s Joe Posnanski in today’s edition of The Big Read. “I think Chad and I always respected each other…But I don’t know that we trusted each other as much as we needed to in those early days. I don’t know that we felt like the other person was always being completely honest.”
But the meeting was able to let both Johnson and Knaus know the importance of communication and being forthright with each other.
“We have had a lot of painful conversations,” Knaus said. “Nothing is out of bounds. We have had fights about attitude, work ethic, dedication, tough things like that.
“I think we can to realize that it’s OK to ask hard questions if you believe the answer you’re going to get.”
As Posnanski writes, drivers like Johnson wants controllable cars and crew chiefs like Knaus want fast cars. That conflict never goes away and it can rip a team apart and ruin a season.
But while Johnson and Knaus still have their differences from time to time, they’re smart enough to know that the greater good is more important than whatever individual desires they have respectively.
And they’re also smart enough to know that they compliment the other very well – Knaus bringing his mechanical talents that squeeze extra speed out of the car, and Johnson bringing his almost supernatural feel for driving those cars.
Together, they’ve managed to become the team that’s always that little bit ahead of their competition. They’ve become a team that is destined to be remembered for many, many years to come.
All of that – from milk and cookies.